Behind enemy lines: Daily Mississippian’s Justin Dial previews matchup


Photo courtesy of Justin Dial

Ben Stansell, Sports Editor

No. 1 Alabama is set to travel to Oxford, Mississippi for a high-powered offensive matchup against Ole Miss. The Rebels’ offense torched the opposing defenses in its first two matchups, averaging almost 600 yards a game. We at the Crimson White caught up with Justin Dial, the sports editor at the The Daily Mississippian, for an Ole Miss view of the game.

Q: Alabama and Ole Miss both boast trios of talented wide receivers, what do you expect from each receiving corps on Saturday?

A: Well, obviously I think that both receiving cores are extremely talented. DeVonta Smith and Jerry Jeudy have shown the ability to make big plays on a consistent basis, and I think they both have 100-plus yard games against the Ole Miss secondary, especially if Tua plays the entire game. The loss of starting-cornerback Jaylon Jones is going to be glaring in this game. However, I think the Rebels’ trio of A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf and DaMarkus Lodge is the best in the country. The inexperience of the Alabama secondary is going to be a problem for the Tide. Saban is going to give Brown a lot of attention, so keep an eye on Lodge and Metcalf to pick up the slack.

Q: How much of an advantage is playing at home in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on a Saturday night?

A: Playing at home is always a plus, but its importance is magnified when Alabama comes to town. This is our biggest game of the year other than Mississippi State. The buzz in Oxford and around campus leading up to a home game with the Crimson Tide is almost unmatched due to the possibility of beating the No. 1 team in the Nation. Vaught-Hemingway will be sold out on Saturday, and after grooving all afternoon prior to the game, I think it’s safe to say the Vaught will be rocking like its 2014 all over again. It’s going to be a huge advantage.

Ole Miss running back Scottie Phillips has rushed for 311 yards combined in his first two games. Do you think Phillips and the Rebels’ ground attack will be able to find success against Alabama’s front seven?Scottie Phillips has been unbelievable up to this point, but keep in mind the Rebels first two opponents. Neither Texas Tech nor Southern Illinois has a defense in the same stratosphere as Alabama. The Rebs will likely have to rely on its passing attack to have any chance at victory on Saturday. Ole Miss is going to have to run the ball effectively to win this game, but I don’t think Phillips keeps up his production from weeks one and two.

Q: What kind of adjustments have you seen in Matt Luke’s second season at the helm?

A: I think the biggest difference in year one and two of the Matt Luke era is comfortability. A year ago, nobody knew if Luke would be retained as the head football coach, including Luke, and I think that knowing he’s the guy for the long haul makes a huge difference for him and his team. The team isn’t playing with a cloud of uncertainty over its head. After a full season and offseason of gaining head coaching experience in the SEC, I think coach Luke and the team are much more comfortable with everything which allows them to solely focus on the week’s opponent.

Jordan Ta’amu has been spectacular so far this season. How big of an impact has he had on Ole Miss’ program after taking over for Shea Patterson last season?

Jordan has been nothing short of spectacular, and he’s had a great impact on the program. Ole Miss went 3-1 in its last three games of the season, which Ta’amu started, including a big win over Mississippi State in Starkville. That momentum gave Ole Miss fans a lot of hope for this season, and up to this point, they haven’t been let down by Ta’amu or the offense.

Although Ole Miss has had some trouble on defense in its first two games, have you seen improvement on that side of the ball this season?

In week one against Texas Tech I saw major improvements on the defensive side of the ball, however, week two against Southern Illinois was a dumpster fire. Giving up 41 to an FCS team is just unacceptable. I think it’s fair to say the defense may have been looking ahead to the Alabama game, but its no excuse by any means. The jury is still out on this year’s defense, but from what I’ve seen, there isn’t much to be optimistic about.

Q: What is your score prediction and can you explain how you formulated it?

A: It’s going to be a shootout on Saturday night. I honestly don’t think either defense is going to be able to stop either offense, so it’s going to come down to turnovers.  Hopefully there’s a Jalen Hurts sighting on a drive or two, but I believe Nick Saban has learned his lesson on that front – see Cooper Bateman, 2015. If Ole Miss can play a clean game on the offensive side of the ball and the defense can force a turnover or two, Ole Miss will win. I’m going with the upset on Saturday with a score of 48-45.